SÓLARIS, the recent collaboration between experimental musicians Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason, re-imagines the score to Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1972 film Solaris. The project was premiered by Poland’s Sinfonietta Cracovia in 2010 and has now been released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the film’s source novel.
Frost and Bjarnason, feeling that Eduard Artemyev’s original sparse electronic score neglected the psychological aspect of Tarkovsky’s drama, consciously adopted the perspective of the film’s characters when composing. They began by producing improvised responses to the film and feeding these through software which reduced them to raw musical data. The result, lacking what Frost called “an indefinable humanity”, represented the inhuman planet on which the film unfolds. Bjarnason, by using this raw data as the basis for the orchestral score, hoped to capture musically each character’s psychological responses to this environment.
Irrespective of its dialogue with Tarkovsky’s film, the resulting piece of music is powerful in its own right. Simple themes, often starting in the low-registers, build into rumbling, brooding backdrops. The strings and piano provide linear development of these themes. Dissonant polyphonic lines are overlaid, modulated, and pushed to the point of crescendo before dying, breathtakingly, al niente. This produces moments of high intensity which, particularly in ‘Simulacra II’, ‘Cruel Miracles’, and ‘Unbreakable Silence’, build momentum within the score. But development also takes a non-linear form. In Frost and Bjarnason’s score, as in the original, themes evolved earlier can recur more or less explicitly later on. As it progresses, the work becomes more and more saturated with echoes of its earlier stages. Indeed, by the closing track, ‘Venia’, snatches of half-recognisable themes vie within a swirling string section that brings the score to its complex and convoluted climax.
Ironically, Solaris was first conceived by Tarkovsky as silent. Thoughtful and innovative, Frost and Bjarnason’s score is not only a worthy development of the original but also further testament to the film’s power to inspire fine music.
Review by Matthew Ellis